Hawaii Superferry cost often more than flying
|Photo gallery: A tour inside the Superferry|
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By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Will Hoover
A 30.8 percent fuel surcharge makes many Neighbor Island trips costlier for families on the Hawaii Superferry than traveling by air.
That could discourage travelers like Scott Gilbert of Makiki, who said he was startled by the added amount when he called to make a Superferry reservation after the huge catamaran made its debut Island appearance on Saturday.
Gilbert said he planned to go to Kaua'i around Sept. 5, the earliest date for securing passage on the new passenger and vehicle ferry service.
"She quoted the rate of everything and then said, 'And by the way, there's a 30.8 percent fuel surcharge,'" said Gilbert, who held off on the reservation. "And I'm thinking, 'That's a pretty significant price increase.'"
Like others, he wonders what's the better deal — to ferry, or to fly.
That depends on a number of variables, but as long as the interisland airlines are conducting a fare war, many shorter trips to the Neighbor Islands are cheaper by air, even when including the price of a rental car.
On trips longer than a week, in which a family brings their own vehicle on the Superferry, the ferry trip might cost less.
For now the only option is to fly, since the Superferry has yet to begin operations and is still in the process of working out the details of its service — such as precisely what will be on the ferry menu, or whether it will have Internet connection.
Operators say if all goes well, the service could be ready by mid-August, but they're not promising a start-up before early September.
Hawaii Superferry execs make no secret about the fuel surcharge once service does begin — it's right there beneath "Fare Information" on the company Web site.
"That's something we've been saying all along," said Terry O'Halloran, director of business development during a media tour of the craft yesterday afternoon. "All of our prices are subject to a fuel surcharge. And that's not unlike other regulated carriers."
What O'Halloran and his colleagues were saying yesterday is that traveling via the Superferry offers Islanders a unique ocean-going experience. That was the whole point of the ferry tour, during which company brass touted the craft's plush Hahalua Lounge, its cushy sofa seating and creatively designed interior decks that offer a spectacular view to every passenger on board.
"When looking at cost, just comparing seat for seat isn't a good comparison," explained O'Halloran. "You've got to look at the whole experience — your cost for parking and your car rental. And then, what is the value of this type of travel, what's that worth? To be able to bring all your oversized and excess baggage and all that will fit in your car?
"What about putting your kayak on top? That doesn't cost you any extra. So there's a lot of benefits to this."
RIDING IN STYLE
John L Garibaldi, company president and CEO, said simply witnessing the Islands from the ocean instead of the air is a wonderment many Islanders have never known. Now, the average traveler can have that experience, he said. Even docked at Pier 19 the setting was remarkable seen from the ship's mezzanine.
"You really enable people to have a spacious and elegant travel experience," said Garibaldi from the Hahalua Lounge, where, for $20 extra, guests can take the ride in style.
"As you can see here, the view off the bow of the vessel is quite stunning. And when you get it out to sea and you're headed toward Maui or going off to Kaua'i in the evening and you can see a sunset that's actually a phenomenal view."
For those who don't opt for the Hahalua Lounge, the ride should still offer ample elbow room (although the Hahalua Lounge seats are a full 5 inches wider than passenger seating elsewhere). The ferry features many seating arrangements — cafe style with tables, rows of airline-style recliner seats along the windows, and sofa seating long enough to handle even the largest family.
Travelers can watch a movie, live television or just enjoy the background music and soak in the scenery. While the passenger deck is spacious, it's tempting to wonder what the sound level could be when it's loaded to the full 866-passenger capacity.
Members of the media were also shown the high-tech bridge and the ferry's two nine-lane vehicle decks, portions of which can be raised and lowered to accommodate larger or smaller vehicles. The ferry is capable of carrying a maximum 282 subcompact cars.
It remains to be seen how rapidly those vehicles can be loaded and unloaded. Some Island residents remain skeptical. But operators insist it can be done quickly and effectively.
"Because this is a reservation system, we know who's coming in," said O'Halloran. "And we've got a very efficient way of doing document checks and screening, so that it isn't going to be a lengthy process.
"Unloading is going to be very fast, actually, because as soon as the vessel comes into port and the ramps connect to the ferry, you're just going to drive right off."
Measures will be taken, such as staggering the flow of departing vehicles, to ensure that traffic will follow normal patterns, he said.
"The idea here is to enjoy traveling between our islands," O'Halloran said.
Reach Will Hoover at firstname.lastname@example.org.